Senior cats don’t need senior cat food

Q: I am very careful to only buy senior cat food for Joon, my healthy 10 year old cat. Sometimes it’s hard to find. Is it necessary for her to eat food for the elderly?

A: No, it is not necessary for Joon to eat senior cat food.

On pet food labels, the word “senior” is a marketing term, not a regulatory or clinical designation. The Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO, establishes nutrient profiles for pet foods, but has not established any for senior cat foods.

This is probably because veterinary nutritionists say that senior cats, assuming they are healthy, have the same nutritional needs as other adult cats. Vets often say, “Age is not a disease,” so there’s no reason healthy senior cats need special food just because they’re old.

A recent study compared the nutrient and calorie content of 31 cat foods labeled for seniors and 59 foods labeled for adult cats. All were commercially available over-the-counter non-therapeutic foods. The researchers measured levels of calories, protein, fat, fiber, ash, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and vitamin D3.

They found that foods marketed for senior cats varied widely in nutrient content and calorie density, although all met the AAFCO Nutritional Standards for adult cats. Foods labeled for seniors and adults were similar, except that most foods labeled for senior cats contained more fiber than foods for adult cats.

Incidentally, the term “senior” generally refers to all older cats, but veterinarians sometimes use more specific words. A cat is middle-aged at 7-10, senior at 11-14, and geriatric at 15+.

Q: Simon, my large mixed breed dog, recently had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. His orthopedic surgeon recommended physical therapy, which Simon will begin soon. I have never heard of physiotherapy for dogs. Does it work?

A: Yes, it is very effective.

In dogs, the most common cause of hind leg lameness is disease of the cranial cruciate ligament, sometimes called the anterior cruciate ligament or ACL. The ACL is one of the four important ligaments that stabilize the knee.

When the ACL ruptures, especially in a large dog, surgery is needed to stabilize the knee, improve hind leg function, and eliminate pain.

Studies show that dogs who undergo post-surgery physical therapy — called physical rehabilitation in the canine world — do better than dogs who don’t.

One study followed 51 dogs before, during and after knee surgery to repair ruptured ACL and damaged medial meniscus.

Prior to surgery, the severity of lameness was similar for the 25 dogs that received postoperative physical rehabilitation and the 26 dogs treated only with rest.

Six months after surgery, leg function was measured again. Both groups improved, but the rehabilitated dogs had significantly greater improvement than the exercise-restricted dogs.

In dogs that received physical rehabilitation, the surgically repaired leg was as good as the other uninjured hind leg. In exercise-restricted dogs, the repaired leg was significantly worse than the uninjured leg.

I hope Simon enjoys the superior benefits of physical rehabilitation.